Tim DeChristopher, climate activist and board member for Peaceful Uprising, was sentenced on Tuesday to two years in federal prison and was slapped a $10,000 fine for disrupting a Bureau of Land Management auction in 2008. Before sentencing he made a long statement to the court:

“Thank you for the opportunity to speak before the court. When I first met Mr. Manross, the sentencing officer who prepared the presentence report, he explained that it was essentially his job to ‘get to know me.’ He said he had to get to know who I really was and why I did what I did in order to decide what kind of sentence was appropriate. I was struck by the fact that he was the first person in this courthouse to call me by my first name, or even really look me in the eye. I appreciate this opportunity to speak openly to you for the first time. I’m not here asking for your mercy, but I am here asking that you know me.”

DeChristopher went on to address U.S. Attorney John Huber, who DeChristopher has never had a conversation with because, in DeChristopher’s words, “it seems Mr. Huber prefers the job of fitting me into whatever extreme characterization is most politically expedient at the moment.”

DeChristopher goes on to point out errors in the government’s memorandum, which refers to him as a “liar” with a lack of “respect for the law”: “The only evidence provided for my lack of respect for the law is political statements that I’ve made in public forums. … Despite my strong disagreements with the court about the Constitutional basis for the limits on my defense, while I was in this courtroom I respected the authority of the court.”

He then points the finger towards the government:

“The reality is not that I lack respect for the law; it’s that I have greater respect for justice. Where there is a conflict between the law and the higher moral code that we all share, my loyalty is to that higher moral code.”

DeChristopher is referring to the fact that the land auction in Utah was later found to be illegally held, but this information was not allowed to be shared by his Defense with the jury.

Back to DeChristopher:

“Those in power, whom Mr Huber represents, are those for whom the status quo is working, so they always see civil disobedience as a bad thing. The decision you are making today, your honor, is what segment of the public you are meant to protect. Mr Huber clearly has cast his lot with that segment who wishes to preserve the status quo. But the majority of the public is exploited by the status quo far more than they are benefited by it.”

Even though we now know U.S. District Judge Dee Benson’s decision, DeChristopher makes certain Benson—and everyone else listening—knows who he is here to protect:

“I am here today because I have chosen to protect the people locked out of the system over the profits of the corporations running the system. I say this not because I want your mercy, but because I want you to join me. … [M]y intent was to shine a light on a corrupt process and get the government to take a second look at how this auction was conducted. … From any perspective, this is a case about the right of citizens to challenge the government. The U.S. Attorney’s office makes clear that their interest is not only to punish me for doing so, but to discourage others from challenging the government, even when the government is acting inappropriately. …Those who are inspired to follow my actions are those who understand that we are on a path toward catastrophic consequences of climate change. They know their future, and the future of their loved ones, is on the line. And they know were are running out of time to turn things around. … The more that people feel that they have nothing to lose, the more that power begins to shrivel. The people who are committed to fighting for a livable future will not be discouraged or intimidated by anything that happens here today. And neither will I.”

No wonder the government is afraid of this man; he’s an independent thinker.

See Climate Storytellers for the full statement.

Justin Alvarez

José Castrellón is a Panamanian photographer who identifies with cultural changes and the impact they have on different places. For more of his work, including Priti Baiks, check out his website. Justin Alvarez is an editorial assistant at Guernica. Read more about him here.

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